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Tip-Off Timer: Oscar Is No. 1

Oct 26, 2009 – 1:00 PM
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Rob Peterson

Rob Peterson %BloggerTitle%

Tip-Off Timer counts down the days until the first game of the 2009-10 season. On Monday, there is one day remaining.

He was known as The Big O, but all he wanted to be was No. 1.

His production was unrivaled. He put up fat numbers. Big, fat, succulent numbers; numbers so ripe and beautiful you couldn't help but stand and gawk. Of course, you know about his famous 1961-62 triple-double season (30.8 points, 12.5 boards and 11.4 dimes) and that he averaged a triple-double (30.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 10.6 apg) for the first five seasons of his career.

And wIth 29.3 points per game, 10.3 assists and 8.4 rebounds for the first 10 seasons of his career, Oscar Robertson was second to none in the NBA at the point guard position.

But there was another big, fat number that also defined The Big O -- 0, as in zero NBA titles. Zero, as in big, fat goose egg.

Robertson put up championship-level digits, but he didn't have a championship ring on his finger. Not only had Robertson not won an NBA title, but he and his Cincinnati Royals never appeared in an NBA Finals. Either Boston or Philly or the general lack of talent on the Royals late in the '60s blocked Oscar's road to a title.

To pour salt in that wound, the Royals hired a coach -- a Hall of Fame point guard -- who thought he could help the Royals, not only by coaching, but also by playing. At least Bob Cousy, who had his No. 14 retired from his 13 incredible seasons with the Boston Celtics, didn't make Oscar give up the number when he arrived on the banks of the Ohio River. By the end of the 1969-70 season, Robertson tired of losing, wanted out of Cincy and away from Cousy.

Luckily for The Big O, the Milwaukee Bucks had big hole at point guard and the best, young big man in the league. You know him as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but that season he was still Lew Alcindor -- Big Lew. Thanks to a trade that sent Flynn Robinson, Charlie Paulk and some magic beans to Cincinnati, the Big O met Big Lew and it turned out to be a match made in basketball heaven. Still, there was one minor detail to be ironed out. What number would Oscar wear?

At the University of Cincinnati, Robertson wore the No. 12 in honor of Maurice Stokes. When Robertson went to the Royals, Stokes -- whose career was cut short in 1958 by concussion so severe it put him in a coma and left him paralyzed -- hadn't had his number retired yet. Robertson, to honor Stokes again, chose to wear a different number -- 14.

And that's what he played in for his first 10 seasons. But in Milwaukee, Robertson's former Royals teammate, Jon McGlocklin, had the number.

"He did not ask me for the number," McGlocklin told FanHouse. "I don't remember how I got 14 when I got here, but I already had it."

McGlocklin, a member of the Bucks' expansion team in 1968-69, was the first Buck to have his number retired. Still, it could have been a different digit hanging from the rafters of the Bradley Center. Unlike a lot of players today who are willing to accept cash to give up their numbers, McGlocklin wasn't in the market to sell No. 14. He wanted to give Robertson the shirt off his back.

"I offered Oscar the No. 14," McGlocklin said, "And Oscar said, 'No, Jon. The number 14 is yours here.' And he took No. 1. That was a class act of Oscar's, but I would have given [No. 14] to him in a second. No problem."

Such was the respect his teammates had for Robertson. And no wonder. At the age of 32, Robertson went put up more respectable numbers: 19.7 points, 8.2 dimes and 5.7 boards per game. With Robertson at the point, Kareem scoring 31.7 points per game on the blocks, McGlocklin draining rainbow jumpers from Oconomowoc and Bob Dandridge doing a little bit of everything, the Bucks shot 50.9 percent from the field, went 66-16 (and that's after going 65-11; the Bucks rested their starters near the end of the season and lost five of their last six) and rolled through the postseason with a 12-2 record, including a sweep of the Baltimore Bullets in The Finals.

Oscar was finally No. 1. As you can see, he wore it well.
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